Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Dryden > The Restoration Drama > John Wilson
  Tatham Stapylton  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

V. The Restoration Drama.

§ 10. John Wilson.


Turning now to individual playwrights of the restoration not incidentally treated in the paragraphs above, we find some that preserved untouched the older traditions of English comedy. Foremost among them was John Wilson, a native of Plymouth, and a student of the law, called to the bar in 1646. Through the good office of the duke of York, whose secretary he had been in Ireland, Wilson became recorder of Londonderry and, throwing himself into the Jacobite cause, remained in Dublin after the accession of king William. He died in London in 1696. Wilson is the author of four plays, the earliest of which, The Cheats, was written in 1662 and enjoyed an extraordinary popularity on the stage. It is a prose comedy frankly following the manner of Jonson. Mopus, the quack astrologer, the sharking bravoes, Bilboe and Titere Tu, the nonconformist minister Scruple who finds the light that leads to conformity on £300 a year, but is steadied in protest against the wiles of Babylon by an offer of 400—all are pure Jonson, but rung to new changes that defy the suggestions of plagiarism. Not less Jonsonian is Wilson’s second comedy, The Projectors, 1664. Here, a group of these sharks (a favourite subject for ridicule with Jonson himself) are represented, busy with their victim, Sir Gudgeon Credulous, and the long line of usurers on the stage is bettered in Suckdry and his servant and foil, Leanchops. 19  Wilson’s comedy is vigorous, full of effective and good-humoured caricature, and successfully imitative of the better features of his master’s art. Besides these excellent comedies, Wilson is the author of a tragedy, Andronicus Comnenius, of admirable conduct and vigour, and written in blank verse of a freedom compacted with firmness that recalls the better work of the previous age. The actual story of Andronicus Comnenus, hypocritical, treacherous and pitiless in his murderous path of devastation to a throne, strangely parallels the story of the hunchback Richard of historical and dramatic fable. Such, however, seems to have been the author’s literary conscience that, save for one scene, which closely resembles the courtship of lady Anne by Richard, he has treated his theme originally and with inventive variety. 20  The date of Andronicus Comnenius is noticeable; for, in 1664, the stage was ringing with Dryden’s Rival-Ladies, and his and Sir Robert Howard’s Indian Queen. Wilson’s fourth play, Belphegor, or the Marriage of the Devil, printed in 1691, is less interesting, though elaborated with much detail. The story, referable to Machiavelli’s well known novella, had been treated before in English drama and may have been suggested to Wilson by Jonson’s unsuccessful play of similar theme, The Divell is an Asse. 21    11

Note 19. This play was likewise influenced by the Aulularia of Plautus. [ back ]
Note 20. Compare Richard III, act I, sc. 2 and Andronicus Comnenius, act IV, sc. 3. Wilson invariably writes Comnenius for Comnenus. [ back ]
Note 21. Compare Haughton’s The Devil and his Dame, mentioned in Henslowe’s diary, and especially Dekker’s If It Be Not Good, the Divel is in it. [ back ]

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  Tatham Stapylton  
 
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